That the search for benzin would become a daily ritual, we could never imagine beforehand. Almost all petrol stations are empty, taken over by nature or taken by the local farmer as storage for equipment and animals.
The smell of a motorbike suit after three months of dust and exhaust emissions never goes out of our system, the roads are not much better than in Turkmenistan, the customs are still arrogant and the stomach virus visits us in this country again. And finally, our motorbike lets us down in the middle of nowhere … Uzbekistan, a country full of unexpected experiences!
Friday 11th August 2017 Konya-Urgench (Turkmenistan) – Nukus (Uzbekistan)
Head to head, we wake up in our single beds with weak matrasses that it reminds us of a broken trampoline. Our homemade breakfast consists of bread that tastes really fat with a spoon of strawberry jam. Not very tasty but it falls like a brick in the stomach, which means that we can go with the right energy to the border crossing. Currently our motorbike suits are stinking like desert and unpleasant body favours. We need to quickly find a place where we can wash the suits.
The last kilometres over Turkmen roads are still a nice off-road training, every muscle of our body is vibrating. Only the roads in Ashgabat were more than perfect, everything outside the city was terrible. Driving in berms was often the best. Hopefully the roads in Uzbekistan are a bit better.
In the distance the first barrier appears, which makes us feel quite worried. There are a number of cars and trucks parked along the side of the road with many ‘picnics’. However, the gate opens when we show our passport and when we try to clarify where we come from. Beyond the first checkpoint we need to turn the motorbikes to take a photo of our license plate. This is a recurring ritual, at many border crossings they can only take a picture of the front.
After we have filled in the usual forms, everything is written in the first big cashbook. After this we need to go through the body scanner. The scanner is bleeping when Erik enters, which is really good. The GPS tracker is in a hidden inner pocket of the jacket, in principle, a tracker is not allowed in Uzbekistan. Erik is taking it slowly and takes some money, keys and a lighter from out of his jacket after which the customs owner is done with it and he says us to go to the next office. So he did not notice the tracker. After that, the long wait begins. Every customs agent does not seem to mind or has a very low energy level. Also at the second table all our information must be written in a large cashbook. However, we get used to the slow system and are prepared for it.
After all administrative issues, we go to our motorbikes. Bags and panniers must all be opened but besides the drugs they have little attention for the luggage. We pack everything back in and want to leave, but then we find out that the customs is forgotten to put a stamp in our passports. We have to go back to the first office to wait there for a customs stamp. After 20 minutes a customs officer with a boring face arrives and puts a stamp. Now we are really ready to discover Uzbekistan! Unfortunately, the roads are not much better than in Turkmenistan but in a little hour we reach Nukus.
At the Jipek Joli hotel there is a car of the Mongol Rally in front of the door, which is refilling petrol out of the water bottles. Petrol is very scarce in Uzbekistan so we must also look for fuel daily. We have a beautiful big room with bath that makes us think of the smelly motorbike suits! Here we can wash them well and almost immediately Bertha stands under the shower in her suit! For the first ten minutes, only black water comes from the suits. Desert sands and exhaust gases flow through the drain well. But after a while, the suits almost look like new. We will do this more often for sure!
After washing, we are looking for a restaurant where we enjoy meat with potatoes, vegetables and a cold beer in complete loneliness. A nice reward for a day driving.
After eating, when we walk along a soccer field, Erik may play instead of a footballer who gained an injury. The level is quite low and there is no companion or tactics but the game joy is great. After 20 minutes an old cap flutes along the side-line, the next group is in turn. Erik was glad that it was only 20 minutes, completely sweated and overheated, he stumbles back towards the hotel. In the courtyard there is another motorbike, an Italian couple driving together on a BMW GS. We try to make a chat, but they speak almost no English and make a not too interested impression, so we quickly get rid of them.
Saturday 12th August 2017 Nukus
We slept well and the breakfast is also more than perfect. A nice hotel and compared to Turkmenistan, the prices of an overnight stay are a lot more friendly for our budget. Today Bertha works on our blog and Erik tries to find canisters at the bazaar. The bazaar is a chaos of taxi buses, which every pedestrian seems to wish to be dead, meat sellers with more flies than a working cooling system and countless other sometimes undefinable items. After two hours of searching, Erik still did not find any canisters but fortunately he found a piece of string to fix his broken rokstrap. We use the straps to tighten the luggage on the back. But the question is whether the straps are made for a long-lasting motorbike trip where the sun is attacking all our materials.
In the afternoon we go to the bazaar together for lunch. Of course they do not have a menu or special tourist menu, we are the only outsiders here. After referring to other tables, we get potato soup with vegetables and meat together with a large lemonade. During lunch, a drunk guy from a table next to us tries to challenge Erik for boxing. Erik thanks kindly, after which his slightly less drunken companion tries to make excuses for the boxer. Eventually we all smile and we leave without boxing.
Back in the hotel, the courtyard is full of motorbikes as if it were a garage. A couple from Japan, Tsuyoshi and Asuha are on honeymoon with an old African Twin and a Honda XR250. The Twin has already seen a lot of the world and has run over 300,000 kilometres. He is fully enthusiastic about his travel stories which makes us dream about visiting Japan. We must definitely visit this couple! The other couple comes from Germany on two large BMWs with modified petrol tanks. After a short talk, we find out that Holger and Anja are also part of our (unfortunately) organized China trip. Nice to meet each other already. In the hotel restaurant we toast for a safe trip and learn to know each other.
Sunday 13th August 2017 Nukus
Today we have a luxury day. We sleep well and continue working on the blog. In the afternoon we take the taxi to the Aral lake. Because there is only one road to the lake and the fuel in Uzbekistan is so difficult we have decided to leave the motorbikes in the courtyard this time and let us taxi to the north. Good for our travel buts 🙂
On the way we stop at the Mizdahkan cemetery just outside the city where people from the 11th century have been buried in mausoleums, masonry graves and above ground shielded graves. Even very recently deceased people are buried here, the environment makes a special but also macabre impression on us. Some graves are completely collapsed, giving you the feeling of looking right into the coffin. Soon we walk back to our taxi to pursue the bumpy road towards Aral.
After about 2.5 hours driving we can see the first shipwrecks already. The Aral River originated about ten to twenty thousand years ago when the Amu Darja River changed direction and instead of flowing to the Caspian Sea, the lowlands of Sarakamysj began to fill with water.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Aral Lake stretched over 450 kilometres from southwest to northeast and had a width of 290 kilometres. The largest depth was 69 meters. The lake had an average depth of 20 to 23 meters in 2004 and a maximum depth of 58 meters. The area was approximately 17160 km² in 2004. With this the Aral Lake was in size the eighth in the world. The Syr Darja and the Amu Darja were the main rivers that were floating water into this former lake that freezes in the winter.
The Aral Lake has become significantly smaller since the 1960s. The drying out of the lake is considered to be one of the greatest environmental disturbances of our time. The freshwater lake, which was still the Aral Lake at the beginning of the 20th century, has now changed to half in a salt desert and half in a number of saltwater lakes. The main cause is the irrigation for cotton cultivation, which extracts a lot of water from the rivers. Knowing the origin of the lake, it makes a sad impression, especially when you know that the then Russian government had also calculated that it would disappear because of the cotton plant which was a lot more important in their eyes. Nevertheless, we make many pictures and try to play the scene from Titanic. Back in the hotel we order dinner which Bertha will hardly eat because she feels pretty bad. Another stomach flu?
Monday 14th August 2017 Nukus – Xiva
After a bad night’s rest for Bertha, it has not been much better. She is not completely fit and has pain in her stomach. However, she starts the white motorbike. In front of the hotel, we are filling our tank with our own petrol tanks and departing for Xiva. At lunch time, the road surface is still in a reasonable condition, but soon there is almost no asphalt. We must constantly watch out for deep potholes or parts where there is no road at all. A slow ride, especially when you do not feel fit. Erik tries to pick up Bertha but soon finds out that he does not feel well at all. And then suddenly Erik’s motorbike stops. First, he thinks he uses the wrong gear, but back in the 1st gear, the bike stops completely. After trying a few more times, he puts the motorbike on the side stand and investigates with Bertha. Bertha soon sees that the fuel tank’s vacuum line is loose, so the bike does not start anymore. Perhaps a hose clamp has been loosened by the bad roads. After securing the vacuum line with 2 tie wraps, the motorbike starts immediately.
After the maintenance and after driving 40 km down the road we arrive in Xiva, where we both feel very bad now. We check in at Alibek Hostel, take a shower and go to bed. We take Imodium for dinner and try to ignore the stomachs as much as possible. Fortunately, the room is one of the smallest so far, every 15 minutes Erik has to go to the toilet which is situated right next to the bed so that Bertha could enjoy it.
Tuesday 15th August 2017 Xiva
After a bad night Erik is staring at the breakfast with a head like an earworm while Bertha feels a lot better and can enjoy breakfast which almost fits the dining table. Breakfast is served on the first floor on the balcony from where we have a nice view on Xiva’s city wall. This is Erik’s place today to refill his battery. All day he is laying on a mattress while Bertha works on the blog and enthusiastically reads Lars Kepler’s millennium trilogy.
In the evening Bertha takes Erik for dinner. We eat a soup inside the city walls of Xiva. It’s not going great, but we both have to eat something. Fortunately, we can help each other on these kinds of moments.
Wednesday 16th August 2017 Xiva
Wake up and feeling good, a lucky moment for Erik. He still has not the energy to win a war, but he can laugh again at Bertha’s first jokes. Together we go to the bazaar looking for canisters and hose clamps.
Here too, the canisters cannot be found and we dicide to use oil bottles as the best alternative. At the hotel, we clean them very thoroughly, we clean them out with dish washer soap, that we have taken from the Netherlands. We let them dry in the sun and are satisfied with our ingenuity.
After that, we can finally explore the city. The city dates back to the 17th century and was declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO as its first location in Uzbekistan. The city centre is surrounded by a stone city wall and contains numerous museums, one more interesting than the other. However, English explanations in the museums are lacking, very strange considering that this is one of the most visited tourist cities in Uzbekistan.
The music museum can be understood without explanation, but when it comes to political aspects or ethnic minorities, it’s another case. Nevertheless, we enjoy the beautiful city centre and even try crazy clothes. We also go on the picture with one of the many bridal couples we see in the town.
After the happy excursion in the town we go back to our hostel to relax. From the balcony we decide that we want to see the sunset from the city wall and from the accompanying guard post. Bertha has heard somewhere that we could walk to the northern entrance of the city to enter the city wall and the guard post, but when we arrive at the final part of the city wall it suddenly stops. This means we have to walk back to the western entrance, near our hostel, to climb the guard post.
We are moving fast, but arriving too late, we cannot buy a ticket anymore today. We just get over it and decide to try it again tomorrow evening. When we arrive near the hostel we see Holger and Anja who just bought a fried chicken from the oven. We decide to follow their example and go for the chicken too. We see the sun setting beautifully illuminating the city wall and conclude that the view from the hostel might be just as beautiful.
Thursday 17th August 2017 Xiva
After breakfast we go with the owner of the hostel on our motorbikes to ‘the black market’ to get some gasoline. He is at the back of Erik’s seat and asks him to drive harder and why he is wearing a motorbike suit. Erik laughs a bit, occasionally adds some extra gas, but keeps it all civilized (or boring). Our motorbikes are filled up with gasoline or something that looks like that. The gasoline comes out of coke bottles or sunflower oil bottles. We pay about € 1 per litre, a lot cheaper than in the Netherlands but quite expensive for this country. Anyway, we are happy with a full tank.
Back to the hostel, the owner shouts again against Erik that we should ride harder, especially when we drive towards the hostel! On the last straight road, Erik pulls the gas trigger and for the owner this seemed to be greater than a rollercoaster. We put the canisters in front of the door of our room and go back into the city to visit the remaining museums and buy a ticket for the guard post.
Just before sunset we get to the right entrance to the watchtower and see our hostel in combination with the sunset and the beautiful town getting an sunny orange colour. There are many tourists taking pictures and it’s hard to make a nice shot. After a while we give it up and go to a neighbouring restaurant with a rooftop to enjoy a delicious meat dish. Later that evening Holger and Anja also arrive in the restaurant and we decide to drink some beers together.
Friday 18th August 2017 Xiva – Buchara
After the monster breakfast we assemble our canisters on the panniers and start our long journey to Buchara. We have no idea how the conditions of the roads are towards Buchara and whether our intended 500km is not too much. But ‘leaving early and we will see what the day brings’ is starting to become our motto. Do not worry and if we do not get there, we just put up the tent somewhere. The 1st 100km of the day starts badly, but afterwards we drive over almost perfectly constructed concrete roads. We can ride in full speed! When the tank is almost empty, we stop on the side of the road and use our self-contained canisters to refill the bikes. It takes a little longer than when you stop at a regular gas station, but the tanks are full again. While tanking, a number of motorcyclists drive in the opposite direction, we enthusiastically wave to each other. It has been a while since we saw other bikers and we almost forgot how to wave :-).
The roads are quite bad for the last 100km, and with shaking muscles we arrive at the Grand Nodirbek hotel, where we are welcomed by a couple of teenagers who are just a bit higher than the reception desk. They speak the English language fairly, but they don’t understand. On the internet, the hotel advertises with private parking, but in reality it does not seem to be true. We can park in front of the door under the camera. “That is also safe.” We try to make them clear that this is not the same and ask who looks at the camera footage but they look like we are from another planet. Lightly annoyed by the combined rigidity and indifferences we decide to park them in front of the hotel anyway and to take a shower. We span a laundry line in the room between old nails on the wall and do a small hand wash after which we eat in the city.
Saturday 19th August 2017 Buchara
When we arrive in the breakfast room at 07:30, there is no light, so we turn it on. We scare when we see that there is another couple in the restaurant, apparently they were waiting for breakfast too. During the whole breakfast they do not exchange a word with each other, maybe it was better to have turned the light off?
In Buchara we are also looking for gasoline. We ask at the reception, but because they really do not understand anything, we start our own search. After we have asked people on the street a few times in sign language that we are looking for gasoline, we can follow a car to a petrol station. It all looks very abandoned, but behind a small window is someone who can sell us gasoline. We can only order per litre, the hose does not stop as usual when the tank is full. So, we ask for a number of litres a number of times and spill some gasoline over the motorbikes, but finally the bikes have new energy! With a smile we drive back to the hotel, ignore the children behind the front desk and pull other clothes to explore the city. Buchara is a beautiful town, too small to actually spend a full day but at a wonderfully quiet pace we still make a self-expanded 6km walk along various sights.
The first stop is a mini mosque.
Then we walk to the Mir-i-Arab Madrash and the Kalyan Tower. This 48-meter-tall tower is also called the Tower of Death, since people were thrown from the tower as punishment until 1920.
Through the Bolo Hauz Mosque, which eventually was not on our route but turns out to be very beautiful, we continue to Ismael Samani Mausoleum and Zindan Prison. The little prison is known for its Bug Pit. This is a 4 meter deep hole where people were detained for more than a year while they were accompanied by scorpions and such pests. Yes, Buchara is known as a cozy town 🙂 .
We end our city walk at the central pond, where we witness dozens of marriages in a few hours.
Sunday 20th August 2017 Buchara – Samarkand
Breakfast is a lot bigger today, but only the half of the table is ready when the first tourists enter the room. A lot of tourist arrived last night. We have slept well, but in this hotel there is still a lot to learn about the level of hospitality. When we’re on the motorbikes we are still laughing about the bad service and the stupid looks from behind the front desk. It will look strange, two laughing Dutch on a motorcycle through the old city centre.
Today we drive towards Samarkand, the last days the area starts to be a bit greener. Everywhere is agriculture and lots of fruit is sold along the side of the road. When we have a break at a bus stop, we exchange candy to apples with a little enthusiastic male. Especially when you drive inland, people are more friendly and curious, in the big cities, people are probably more used to tourists or travellers.
When we arrive at the Sim-Sim hostel, we first ask the owner whether he knows where we can get gasoline. But at its indicated address there is no drop and, with the handy I-Overlander app, we do not find gasoline. But then we are approached by a resident who speaks almost fluent English and asks other inhabitants where we have to go for gasoline, we eventually find gasoline after two hours. In a long street we find the well-known coke-bottles filled with gasoline in front of almost every house. A little laughing thick boy fills our motorbikes while we get rid of all kinds of questions from Russian motorcyclists. With every response we give they look incomprehensible, their English is not as good as they thought.
Back at the hostel we try to make it clear to the owner that there is no gasoline at his address, but he continuous to say that we did not look well. We take a shower and hurry to see a glance of the city. Unfortunately, we are too late to get in at Registan, the big square in the heart of Samarkand. Due to a major music festival, the visitor times have been adjusted and after 16.00 only dancers can be in for the big general rehearsal. When we arrive in the evening we have a good view of the square and the general rehearsal, which makes everything a little more enjoyable.
The visit to the Shah-i-Zinar necropolis was actually lower on the to-visit-list, but because we cannot visit Registan we have a look in the necropolis. This was actually beyond our expectations, it’s beautiful to see that this should have been higher on the list!
The Bibi Khanym Mosque, on the other hand, fails, especially because more than half of the building seems to be a ruin and the entrance is way too expensive (5 USD p.p.). The fact that they have been restoring since 1974 is hard to imagine, what has happened during that period?!
Monday 21st August 2017 Samarkand – Boysun
From Samarkand we leave for Boysun, a stopover just before the Tajik border. We drive through the beautiful mountains, reaching over 1000m, making the temperature even more enjoyable.
The roads are not too bad which makes it a nice ride. In Boysun, the first hotel is too expensive, even after negotiation, and we drive towards the 2nd hotel in the village. Bertha has to wake up the owner who is sleeping at the front desk, but he welcomes us and shows us where we can park the bikes. When he wants to see money for washing the bikes, a job that Erik did himself, and when we have to move the bikes in the late evening to another place, his kindness is suddenly not so kind anymore. 5 dollars for the use of the water is way too much and Erik makes clear to the owner that 1 dollar should cover all the costs. He looks angry, but understands the look of Erik almost immediately.
After a while we find a small restaurant in the town where they serve stuffed puff pastry with meat and onions. There are many people and it tastes good too! We order a few more while enjoying a cup of tea and only have to pay a few Sum afterwards. In this way we never get rid of our last Uzbek Sums!
Tuesday 22nd August 2017 Boysun – Dushanbe (Tajikistan)
We get up early and make our own breakfast in the hotel room, leaving for the border crossing. In the meanwhile we have passed quite a few borders, but it is always exciting every time. It was not really fun to enter Uzbekistan, but leaving the country is not much better. Again, we have to drive the motorbikes back to make a photo of the license plate and all the data must be recorded in large cash books. After we left the 4th office we can go outside for the motor inspection. That all the bags and panniers have to be opened, we are already used to, but this time the customs is also watching our phones. Photos are being watched, the video of the Turkmen president, who is still on Erik’s phone, attracts the attention. It does not feel nice, they go into your privacy and the only thing we can do is watch them do it. Fortunately, this is probably the only country where this is usual at the border crossing. Happily we could leave the country after three hours and drive through the little piece of no-man’s land to Tajikistan’s first gateway, our next destination!